Hội An & Bai Xep, Vietnam…

Vietnam with a 2 and a 1/2 year old & 4 year old. People imagine all sorts of things for their children. Since we first fell pregnant, we only ever imagined this for ours – a Vietnamese sleeper train adventure. One big backpack, 4 of us, two weeks.

 


Ho Chi Minh City (Days 1 – 2)
Our tactic here was to keep it simple, like toddler simple, one ‘big’ thing a day. Namely a park when they could run free. The walk to get there became the adventure as we’d call at our favorite fresh juice and Banh Mi street stall to take refuge from the infamous traffic on the way. It did amaze us though (having both visited Vietnam a couple of times previously) how much our bodies remembered the reflex of the tactical ‘slow walk.’ AKA survival across the road whilst 100 motorbikes swarm around you.

September 23 park and Tao Dan park in District 1, have fantastic kids playgrounds; both are safe (ish), fenced, shady. Most importantly the former has a kiosk serving 60 cent beers whilst you watch the kids play. Australia get on this please!

When we felt really adventurous we’d throw in two things a day like a trip to Ben Thanh Market, the water puppets show, or an evening trip to the pedestrianised Nguyen Hue walking street. When i say evening, I of course mean 5pm, since the jet-lagged kids were still on Australian time. Afterall, getting in a swim before 6am is the new going out.


Where we stayed:
The Sunland Hotel – has a shallow toddler slide pool NEXT to a lady doing foot massages. Again, Australia please get on this!

Where we ate: Al Sham Restaurant – delirious middle eastern food and friendly owner who stuffed the kids full of Syrian honey cake & strawberry sticks on the three times we visited.

HCMC to Da Nang (For Hoi An) the SE4 sleeper train

The pros list:

  • It’s totally worth birthing two kids JUST to secure your own 4 birth soft sleeper cabin with none of the usual sharing with strangers on a train.
  • The line “we’re going to sleep on a train!” bought me us at least 6 months of excitement in the pre-holiday build up with the kids.
  • The kids actually slept. Helped by the rocking and ‘chug chug’ noises.

The reality list:

  • 17 hours is a LOT of crafting, dominoes and sticker books. Parents; Arm yourself with supplies. Oh how my husband and I longed for our Trans-Siberian express days where all we needed as a good book and vodka!
  • My youngest is a total bed-hog, meaning that I had somewhat less sleep than she did, sharing a single berth with a 2 year old in the starfish position.
  • The momentum that the kids loved, together with the screeching, jolting and excitement of sleeper trains that I also used to love just left me feeling exhausted this time. Old age maybe?

Hội An (Days 3 – 5)

There are places I know I’ll love before i get there. This is one. Cobbled old town set along a canal, French colonial architecture, quaint little shop-houses framed with lanterns. It reminded me of a glitzier version of Melaka in Malaysia.

It’s Instagram central here. Now I’d like to not be a cliche since I’m older and wiser, but nope, I donned actual red lipstick for a breakfast walk and posed like the best of them in the mustard yellow walled alleyways. All be it with my mini photo-bomber kids by my ankles.

Where I stayed: Thanh Van 1 hotel – nice courtyard pool, nice breakfast.

Where I ate: The perfect Long Island Iced Tea at a coffee shop called Wake Up, washed down with veggie spring rolls. Perfect mainly because it was ‘mama solo time’ for a few hours. Also because it was the same price as a smoothy. Easy choice.

What we did: The Lantern full moon festival, held monthly.

Cua Dai (Days 5 – 8)

We lucked out here with the beautiful homestay with home cooking and lovely staff who live on site with their two young kids, meaning that I could relax and not have to ‘shhh’ mine. It’s location might put a few people off as it was the baron building in the middle of a cows paddock, 5 minutes taxi ride from the Cua Dai main strip.  Strangely rows of pavements were all built in invisible streets looking ripe for developers, but all that seems ambiguous due to the Cua Dai’s coastal erosion problem. We personally loved the wide open space after being cooped up in cities. It’s 5 minute walk to a super quiet patch of beach with the pint sized toddler waves to play in at dusk.

Where we stayed: Sun Paradise Villa.

Sa Huynh (Day 9)

Since we couldn’t face the 5 hour drive back down south in one hit. We pit stopped for one night in the creepy Sa Huynh resort. It’s faded neon lights reminded me of the place in the movie ‘Bad times at the El Royal.’ It had one redeeming feature however….

 

 

Bai Xep (Day 10 – 13)

At last. Anywhere that’s cut off to traffic is our kind of place. We found our groove here. I liked it from the moment we walked in through the rabbit warren alleyways, where the only decision is whether to turn left to the fishing dock or right at the village well which was jammed packed with various pipelines to communally siphon off water. The beach is shared by a handful of iconic Vietnamese basket boats and three guesthouses (two backpackers and a fancy pants resort.) At sunset the whole village set up makeshift plastic furniture in the sand and sell their catch of the day. The only jolt from paradise came when the local kids came racing into the tide one day, ecstatic that they’d got their hands on an old polystyrene box. It became a shared raft, floating toy, ball and eventually disintegrated into 1000 pieces which were left all over the beach. A handful of 8 year olds then started experimenting with their heads in plastic bags whilst crashing in the waves. If ever there’s somewhere to make you appreciate the scale of the global climate emergency it was here.

Where we stayed: Haven Guesthouse.

Dieu Tri to HCMC the SE1 sleeper train (day 14)

Back on the 12 hour night train once more, which was pretty uneventful, except for it’s final moments. I’d previously joked that this trip was about re-connecting with ‘travel Kim,’ with the person and feelings that travel used to give me – moments that are few and far between once parenthood begins! Since 99% of this trip was the usual happy chaos of young children, my 1% of travel buzz came unexpectedly as we arrived into Ga Sai Gon station at dawn. Something about Asian cities in the very early hours of the morning makes me feel alive every time.

 

 

 

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Vietnam

I wasn’t overly enamored with it the first time, but always wanted to come back having missed the South last time. And now at least I can say with certainty that I like the North much better! But I needed to fly to somewhere this neck of the woods from China, so it kind of all worked out. It definitely has been one of those stop-gap type places, and i’ve spent most of my week here with my head sorting out flights/all things India so my heart hasn’t really been in it. None the less:

Liked:

1)      From minus 1 in Beijing to 25 in HCMC, it’s warm again and my backpack is lots lighter with only my summer threads.

2)      Yoghurt Space. A giant frozen yoghurt chain, with choices of toppings so wide its like the Subway of the desert world or a big version of Pizza Hut’s Icecream factory. And who doesn’t love these.

3)      The Reunification Palace and Chu Chi Tunnels. Making history fun.

Disliked:

1)      Traffic/roads. When you actually avoid going somewhere, just because it’s not worth your time to cross you know it’s getting tiresome. Pass me Gilly T or Koh Samet (no roads) on the asap please.

2)      Apart from Yoghurt-ville and a posh bakery on the way to the War Museum, I have to say I wasn’t loving the food here.

3)      Currency. 30,000 dong to the $1. Come on, just make life easy and knock a few zeros off. Nobody likes withdrawing 5 million from the bank!

Where I stayed:

Bo Tung Xeo HCMC, Saigon Backpackers HCMC, Homestay Long Ho District, Vinh Phuoc Chau Doc.

My Tho/Ben Tre/Can Tho, Mekong Delta, Vietnam

This is the bottom South corner of Vietnam and a scenic few days detour to the Chau Doc Vietnam/Cambodia border for the slow boat to Phonm Phen. And for $30 usd for a little three day tour (with hotels/buses/grub too) it actually easier and almost as cheap as doing it the DIY way. Plus I fancy being mollycoddled and having someone organize me. Sometimes it has to be done.

We go via bus & boat to My Tho, Ben Tre, & Can Tho and along the way take in a bee farm (nice honey tea) a crocodile farm (kind of boring but you get to feed them). Oh and get this; Unicorn Island! Sadly names as it resembles one from the air (apparently) it is not, despite my wildest dreams, inhabited by the little fellas. One day i’m going to find one, mark my words.

We stay in a ‘homestay’ i.e a Vietnamese family home where they cook you a meal, and you hang out and pretend they are your rellys. It’s a little fake but still fun/different, with a nice mixed crowd of us. Like all good gatherings, most of night was overshadowed when our hosts busted out a huge plastic bottle filled with the local homemade ‘happy juice’ – Vietnamese rice wine. (Bit like fermented tequila/sake) Absolutely toxic.  We kept drinking till it tasted nicer. This never happened.

Cu Chi Tunnels, HCMC, Vietnam

This vast warren of underground dirt tunnels were the HQ for the Vietcong in the late 60’s/7o’s.  They spread from Cu Chi (2h from HCMC) right to the Cambodia border. They are made even more remarkable as they were dug on the whole by hand, and maybe the odd handmade trowel here and there.

Our tour guide (Ken) called us all ‘his family.’ The place is swarming with tourists and the guides all have pet names for their groups. We heard lots of ‘this way my brothers’ too. Ken talked gave us a lesson in Guerilla Warfare 101, in case any of want to start our own gory bloodbath, but I have to say he showed us some great tips. Here are my top three things I’ve learnt today.

1) The first is not war related, he told us on the bus on the way there. HCMC is home to 8 million people. And guess how many motorbikes? 5 Million. And all of these are in the last 36 years, since 1975.

2) He showed us a whole range of boobie traps. To give you a visual think of the classic ‘leaves camouflaging a bear pit’ with some bamboo spikes thrown in for extra gore. Very like Leo in the beach when he goes rogue agent and tries to wind up the farmers. Ken proudly demo’s them all, then proudly smiled when he showed us ‘his favorite.’ Macarbe hey, but you know if you are going to have a fave weapon of war, his was a good choice – more bamboo spike rotaries that speared you if you struggles then speared you harder if you were rescued too. Nasty.

3) Now this one is genius. Those clever Vietcong not only fashioned some fetching flipflop shoes out of old tyres. You can but these for $2 and apparently they last you years. BUT they designed them so that they look back to front. In other words, when they were walking away, and American troops tracking their steps, it looked like they were walking backwards! No wonder it took the best part of 10 years to defeat them. Dragon’s Den anyone.

After this surprisingly decent tour, we had a horrible 15 mins at a shooting range where men with inadequacy issues can pay 300,000 dong to fire 10 bullets from an AK43. Insensitive if you ask me, and unnecessarily loud.

Then we separated the wheat from the chaff when we got the chance to crawl through one of the 100m tunnels. They have widened it slightly to accommodate fat Europeans, and ironically Americans, and there are ‘get out’ hatches every 20 meters as apparently most people freak. There are sections where it’s so slim you have to slide down feet first and it’s obviously baking hot down there too. Only 4 /26 of us (yeah that includes me, did you expect anything less!) were good little Vietcong and finished the job. It’s a tiny glimps of the horrific claustapobia and ventilation issues that women and children had to suffer, sometimes up to 10 meters deep. But without taking anything away from the tourist trap it is today, after Potosi mines in Bolivia with its dangerously illegal digging and the small dynamite factor, Cu Chi is Disneyland.

Reunification Palace & War Remnants Museum, HCMC, Vietnam

I always wanted to come to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) after skipping it last time. Now I’m here, I have to say; I prefer Hanoi! It’s ok here, but Hanoi has the lake. You can’t beat a city built around a nice lake. And the water park, you definitely can’t beat a water park.

So, I know I have been a total War junkie this month, but today I visited one of the most interesting sights ever. The Reunification Palace stands between Pham Ngu Lao & Dong Khoi in the centre of the city. It is famous for the iconic moment when Communist North Vietnam tanks smashed through the iron gates in 1975, ending the war. The place is frozen in time to that very day, with everything inside remaining untouched. How fascinating is that! I mean obviously they have pimped it for the tourists, but the decor is pure 70’s, and the whole place is like a huge, creepy, Bond villain’s layer. You are free to wander the four floors of preserved books, huge boardroom tables where world leaders once met. They had huge desks with military plans and old-fashioned telephones (black ones and special green ones that intrigue me.) Best of all a was a control panel with a huge RED button that was just aching to be pushed (and possibly a  WMD imminently launched.) There was a helipad on the roof and secret underground tunnels, the lot. I could have spent all day here.

(I took some nice black and white photos as the light was really cool, which are a good effort, even if I do say so myself. And since this blog has been starved of pics for so long, i’ve gona a bit David Bailey.)

Then we have the War Remnants Museum.  Everyone says it’s the better of the two so I saved it for last. And predictably it was terrible. Hundreds of tourists gauping at pics of Agent Orange victims, I don’t know, it just felt wrong. Hiroshima was similar in tone/context but because it was peaceful and quiet it somehow didn’t feel so voyeuristic? The only good bit was a stunning photography exhibition on the top floor; Requiem, showcasing the work and stories of famous war photojournalists.

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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